The world was not waiting for The Wall Street Journal to weigh in on the Charleston, South Carolina, massacre. Yet in a steaming hot pile of take posted online Thursday evening, the newspaper's editorial board took a hard look at the killing of nine people at a historically black church and concluded that "what causes young men such as Dylann Roof to erupt in homicidal rage, whatever their motivation, is a problem that defies explanation."
In truth, evidence had been emerging all day of the racial hatred that drove the shooter.
Still, the editorial began by lamenting that race had even entered the discussion. For people who see such a motive, the board wrote, "It does not matter that the alleged killer, Dylann Roof, brings to mind the mentally troubled young men who committed horrific mass murders of innocents inside buildings in Newtown, Conn.; Aurora, Colo.; or Virginia Tech."
And why, the paper wondered, are people so focused on this one crime, "when individuals are murdered every day in less noted acts of hatred or rage that leave survivors bereft beyond understanding"?
After noting the parallels between the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church shooting and the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963, the editorial said that the nation has made great strides in discouraging this sort of racial violence over the past half-century.
Back then and before, the institutions of government -- police, courts, organized segregation -- often worked to protect perpetrators of racially motivated violence, rather than their victims.
The universal condemnation of the murders at the Emanuel AME Church and Dylann Roof’s quick capture by the combined efforts of local, state and federal police is a world away from what President Obama recalled as “a dark part of our history.” Today the system and philosophy of institutionalized racism identified by Dr. King no longer exists.
The editorial board isn't completely wrong: Americans of all races were clearly horrified by the massacre on Wednesday night. And it's no small feat that police caught the accused murderer the day after he committed the crime. It took nearly 15 years to begin bringing the 16th Street Baptist Church bombers to justice and nearly four decades for the last two perpetrators to be convicted.
But does the fact that America has made some significant progress over the past 50 years really mean we've eliminated institutionalized racism? Even a cursory glance at the way our nation handles criminal justice, access to housing and education -- just to mention a few areas -- would suggest we have a seriously entrenched problem.
Only in a nation still blind to the ongoing legacy of our original sin could the bar for ending institutionalized inequality be set so low. And ironically, that one of the nation's leading media outlets chose to set the bar there, rather than confront the painful reality, is itself proof of the persistence of racism.